avatarMike Butler


Jingle Bell Rocking Around a Convalescent Home with My Off-Key Mom

Originally overcome with fear, it’s a memory I’ll never forget

Photo by Jojo Yuen of Unsplash

“Five, four, three, two, one…”

I hurl a half-court shot that swishes as Wake Forest upsets Notre Dame in the first round of my imaginary March Madness Nerf basketball tournament game in my tiny gold-carpeted bedroom.

“Mike!” came the familiar call from down the hall.

“I have a huge favor to ask,” my mom began.

I skeptically listened as my mom requested that I partake in going to a convalescent home and singing Christmas carols.


Sing? Who did she think I was Keith Partridge?

My nine-year-old initial response was not interested. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not the next year. Not ever.

I would not sing in a house. I would not sing with a mouse. I would not sing here or there.

“Um, OK, sure,” I reluctantly replied.

How bad could it be? No one will know me.

However, the idea of singing aloud in front of strangers terrified me.

What if I got booed by a bunch of seniors in wheelchairs?

What if they pelted me with hard-boiled eggs?

Performing day had finally arrived.

I was still nervous. Very nervous.

I practiced several times — singing — in the bathroom, but each time didn’t last but a few strands before returning to my bedroom and my epic Nerf basketball showdowns.

To get more in the spirit and look the part, my mom and I donned our matching Santa Claus hats and Christmassy Argyle scarves and walked into the building.

Our singing may suck. But, boy, did we ever look festive.

Carol and Bobby Brady in Christmas attire we were.

But my Christmas spirit was immediately flushed down the drain when my mom opened the door to the convalescent home.

What greeted us wasn’t pleasant. It was not kind. It was rather nasty in fact!

The overbearing and overpowering aroma of urine overtook me.

I wanted to run like hell to our car drive to the nearest movie theater and smell popcorn. Delicious and buttery popcorn.

Please, Mom, don’t make us go in this horrible-smelling place.

But she just looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes and kindly said, “Ready, to make millions of people happy?”

My heart was racing and my nerves were getting the best of me as the director greeted us with a huge smile.

“They are so excited and thrilled you have come to perform,” she said, thankfully putting her hands together as if praying.

We walked into the bland and sour-milk-smelling activity center and were surrounded by all kinds of seniors in wheelchairs. Some were staring at us with glazed eyes. Others were unsure if we were family members or the real Santa Claus.

I stared back at them as if they were aliens unsure what to say or do next.

Then, well then, my mom kind of just did her thing.

She looked over at my fear-infested face, showed me a confident grin, and asked, “Ready?”

Not even close.

Then all of a sudden — boom!

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring Snowin’ and blowin’ up bushels of fun Now the jingle hop has begun

Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” bounced from the portable player. My mom danced, sang, hopped, and then swooped in closely on the seniors — sometimes getting mere inches from their faces.

It had been a side of my mom I had never seen before — the performer, the star on stage, oozing with enthusiasm, acting like she was on Broadway, and bringing sheer happiness and joy to others.

One by one the seniors’ faces lit up like Christmas lights.

She was both electric and contagious.

I watched, joined in hesitantly, gathered steam, and found myself singing loudly with the words and dancing along.

Not nervous. Not embarrassed at all, but I actually enjoyed putting on an entertaining — and possibly comedic — show for our audience.

Of course, I didn’t possess the same enthusiasm as my stage-friendly mom. Not even close.

Seeing all the elderly men and women clapping along, smiling, and singing along was a lifetime memory.

And one I have still not forgotten.

What a bright time, it’s the right time To rock the night away Jingle bell time is a swell time To go glidin’ in a one-horse sleigh Giddy-up, jingle horse, pick up your feet Jingle around the clock Mix and mingle in a jinglin’ beat That’s the jingle bell rock

Forty-five years later, every Christmas season when Hall ‘N Oates’ version of “Jingle Bell Rock” plays it takes me back to that snowy New York day, and my 40-something-year-old mom blissfully — quite possibly offbeat and offtune — dancing and bopping.

It’s an event that brought joy and smiles to the faces of 40 or so elderly men and women, making their Christmas season very merry.

And still brings joy to my heart every time I hear that song.

That’s the jingle bell That’s the jingle bell That’s the jingle bell rock!

Thanks for reading my story.

A surprise birthday that was, well, really a surprise!

Lu Skerdoo, Shanti C K, Scot Butwell, Klara Jane Holloway, David Asch, Deborah Camp, Sara Larca, Susan Wheelock.

This Happened To Me
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